Lawrence Sail

Posted on 8th March, 2018

Born 1942 in London


My father was a German artist, born of German parents who were in England at the time (his father, an architect, was working on the building of Port Sunlight): his mother died a week after his birth. Brought up in Melsungen, my father studied in Köln and at the Bauhaus in Dessau. He was strongly anti-Nazi, failed to keep his mouth shut and fled from Germany in 1934, heading for England with only a suitcase and the address of the artist Duncan Grant, whom he had met. In London he met and married my mother, who came from a reasonably well-off middle-class family. My parents divorced in 1943: I and my twin sister were brought up in Devon by my mother. She had travelled extensively in Europe with my father, and they had intended to settle in Spain, only to have to leave there too because of the civil war.


I have always thought of myself as European, and this assumption was a given of my home life as a child, enhanced by travels with my mother, who had herself studied piano in Innsbruck when young. (Although we saw my father only rarely, after his death in 1971 I met and got to know his – and my – German relatives, with whom I remain in touch). I studied French and German at Oxford, then taught those languages for a number of years, before becoming a freelance writer in 1991. In this context, too, it would be impossible to overestimate the delight and the gift of having access to the literature of France and of Germany.


Brexit, however understandable from some angles, runs fundamentally counter to my beliefs and experience. Illiberal and narrowing, it also seems an aberration in the age of globalisation. And it saddens me to see all this occurring in the country which gave my father, along with countless others, a place of refuge in the 1930s.


Lawrence Sail - January 2018


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My father was also a refugee - from Czechoslovakia. I was born in Wales but we emigrated to Canada where I grew up. I have been deeply shocked that the same prejudices against migrants and refugees were shown to still be firmly in place by the result of the referendum. I think England was actually becoming something else, but this reactionary backlash has really set this country back.